Tag Archives: Luksusowa

The simplest Vodka cocktail that isn’t really a cocktail.

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Another way to enjoy your favorite vodka: a Nikoli for your party.

I love to host parties of all sizes.  Sometimes it’s a small group of 6, and sometimes it feels like I sent out a mailing addressed to “current occupant”!  Almost no weekend goes by that I’m not hosting some activity, somewhere.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a “tasting” – a party where various dishes or types of food or beverage all focused around one theme are shared.  This one was focused on caviar (I served four types) and vodka (two types) – two incredible flavors that are a classic pairing.  I added a couple of types of smoked fish and, of course, champagne.  It had a very Russian feel to it.

A close friend of mine (part of the group around the table) used to manage a vodka bar and shared a very special cocktail that her Russian clients would regularly order.  She said that this drink has quite a few different names: Russian Cocaine, Russian Rocket, Nicolaski, but the one she remembered was most asked for, and the name I’ll use from now on is “Nikoli.” It’s really quite ingenious and very delicious.

This is a very simple drink and even if you don’t normally drink vodka – this may win you over!  Use only a very smooth vodka.  For me, it’s always a potato vodka and one of two labels (I drink both). When I’m out on the town with friends, my vodka of choice is always Chopin.  If the restaurant has Luksusowa, a classic Polish vodka, I’ll order that for a change.  I keep both in my freezer at home, so I’m ready at a moment’s notice.  Both are distilled from potatoes and are very smooth and rich especially when stored in the freezer, so they stay chilled properly.

Just an aside, that’s the big secret to making vodka taste great – keep it cold enough.  People have been dropping their bottles of vodka in the snow, letting the bottles stay out in subfreezing weather for a day or so for hundreds of years. We’ve got it a whole lot easier –  just put the bottle in the freezer!

Remember that vodka will not freeze (of course, because it’s alcohol), but it will thicken up a little, and the taste will change quite a bit. At “near freezing” temperatures, the proper drinking temperature for good vodka, it releases fewer volatiles, the compound in the alcohol that quickly vaporizes. That’s why when a spirit like vodka is warm, the smell of pure alcohol can be overwhelming.

By sipping a vodka that’s properly chilled (near freezing), a balance is created between the natural volatiles and the taste of the things that you are eating with the vodka. Which brings me back to a “Nikoli.”

You need four things for a Nikoli – aforementioned near-freezing vodka, thinly sliced lemon (I use Meyer lemons – they’re sweeter), a small dish of regular white sugar, and another small dish of freshly ground coffee (the finer the ground, the darker the bean, the better).

  • Prep the Meyer lemons by pressing one side of each slice into the little dish of sugar and the other side of the lemon slice into the dish of ground coffee.
  • Then pour about one to two ounces of chilled vodka into either shot glasses or aperitif glasses.
  • Pick up one lemon slice by the rind and fold it between your fingers (like a taco) with the coffee side inside and the sugar side on the outside.
  • Bite the flesh of the lemon clean from the rind, take the shot and then chew the lemon and swallow it all together.

Absolutely delicious!

One more little recommendation: chill your glasses. Chill your shot glasses in the freezer with the vodka, but place aperitif glasses in the regular refrigerator.  I like to use my antique aperitif glasses, they’re pretty, and they make the table look more festive, but I’d never put them in the freezer – they’re way too delicate.

Try a Nikoli – it’s a great way to get a party started!!

Serving Caviar for a Tasting?

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Handy tips for serving caviar at your next event.

 

When you own restaurants, as I did for more than twenty years, you learn quite a bit about serving all kinds of different food. Caviar is a little unusual in its own way. Serving can be tricky, but the effort is well worth the work.

Remember that caviar is basically cured (salted) eggs from sturgeon, a white meat fish. The sturgeon flesh is also very edible, usually found in stores canned or frozen, but the big value are the eggs. For that reason, because fresh caviar is so delicate, you want to keep it unopened for no more than 8 days in the coldest part of your refrigerator – ideally at 28-32 degrees. If the tin is opened, don’t keep it for more than 2 days.

You want to be especially careful with unpasteurized caviar which is the freshest and the best tasting and truly the one you want to spend your money on.  So, buy it close to the date of your party and only what you think will be eaten.  If there’s any leftover use it as a garnish on an omelet the next day!

When serving, you want to keep caviar cold. I place the smaller serving dish into a larger dish that is filled with ice. This will chill the serving dish and keep the contents cold for a few hours. Just a little warning, you do NOT want the caviar to warm up on the table or it will spoil. Also, never use a sterling silver spoon with caviar. You won’t like the taste of the caviar if you do. You want to use wood or glass for the serving dish; mother of pearl, horn or bone for the serving spoon. You can even use plastic as an absolute last resort, but maybe not for the nice party you just laid out!

When it comes to serving, there are a couple of options – it can be served plain if you prefer or as a garnish on other foods. Some people are happy with just a dab of real butter, and some lemon juice on a cracker. But I serve my caviar with blini and pumpernickel or rye cocktail size bread, with sieved egg yolk, sieved egg white, minced red onion, minced chive, and crème fraîche.  A perfect bite!

It’s important to remember that there’s actually all kinds of “caviar.” My favorite Italian restaurant Sfxio in Beverly Hills serves Truffle Caviar Pasta. They import “truffle caviar” (truffle oil in the shape of caviar) from Italy and serve it on house made fresh pasta. It’s delicious and it’s their most popular dish.

Truly the best recommendation is one that I’ve done myself. Not long ago I hosted a tasting party that featured my favorite Champagnes and vodkas with the best osetra caviars from Petrossian.

For the Champagne or sparkling wine, we served Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico which is my go-to sparkling for informal gatherings. Don’t forget nice glasses for your beautiful bubbles.  Two favorites are the Reidel Veritas collection for simple wide tulips or the Mulle Nuits crystal flute from Baccarat.

Now let’s say that you want an alternative for Champagne, like a vodka. I like vodka distilled from potato. There are three that catch my eye for flavor and body. My favorite vodka is Luksusowa, a popular brand imported from Poland. You can make a real statement with Chopin from the Podlask Wytwornia distillery also in Poland.  Or you can serve another favorite, Ultimat, which is actually a blend of wheat, rye and potato vodkas!

Serving tip for vodka – keep the bottle in the freezer until you’re ready to serve. Put it in the deepest recesses of the freezer for at least three days. The vodka won’t freeze but will get a little thicker and taste a great deal better than just chilled. Find some fun shot glasses at a resale shop for a vintage look or use these plain ones I found at Crate and Barrel.

I think it’s time to party!